I am not a games journalist, but somehow I ended up doing games journalism.
Part of my job as a Tokyo correspondent for Anime News Network is to attend events in the area. If you read my event reports, you’ll know that I just give a general overview of the event and talk about the atmosphere and whatnot. It’s never anything too specific or in-depth, so it’s not like any specialist knowledge is required.
Even so, I felt nervous when I was asked to cover the Tokyo Game Show last month.
First off, I had never been to the Tokyo Game Show before. I’ve never kept up with the reports about it either, or even much gaming news in general. I had no idea what games would be big at TGS and was absolutely certain that my coverage would be lacking.
It didn’t help that, in the weeks leading up to the Tokyo Game Show, I was seeing lots of hate on social media directed at a prominent games journalist, named Dean Takahashi. He uploaded footage of himself playing a game named Cuphead, and he was not very good at it. Apparently, he uploaded the footage for a laugh because he doesn’t take himself very seriously as a gamer and wasn’t intending to review the game anyway. But a lot of viewers reacted angrily to the video, claiming that video games journalists should be good at the games they play and that Dean Takahashi lacked the credentials for his job.
As I mentioned before, I don’t really keep up with gaming news and I don’t consider myself part of the gaming community. But all this hate still ended up on my Twitter feed anyway. That’s how loud and angry this internet drama was (and continues to be).
This terrified me. If an experienced veteran in the industry was getting this treatment, would I face abuse too for daring to do games journalism? I only play games casually, and even then, mostly single-player RPGs and visual novels. I’d feel deeply ashamed of myself if footage of me playing a video game – especially a game I’m not good at – was ever uploaded to the internet.
I don’t care about being good at games, I just want to have fun playing cute games! I guess you could say I’m like the MC of that Gamers! anime.
(By the way, the personality quiz on Crunchyroll confirmed this result for me.)
Anyway, my point is, I didn’t feel qualified to write about the Tokyo Game Show. I was especially daunted by the fact that I would be attending alone. ANN has another Tokyo correspondent, but he focuses on news while I write for the editorial side. I would be writing the event report, playing the demos, and conducting the interviews with game developers.
Usually, I’m not the kind of person who ever feels comfortable about asking for help, even when I need it, but this time, I asked for help. I was feeling overwhelmed by the scale of what I had to do.
My editor, thankfully, was very understanding. He got Dustin (the guy who writes the excellent “This Week in Games” column) to write me a guide about what game releases to look out for at TGS. I went through it like a checklist, systematically photographing every display related to the major franchises. I also took the time to research those games beforehand, so that I would at least have a rough idea about what I was talking about, even if I had never played the games.
Thanks to Dustin, I was able to focus on the titles that ANN readers cared about without feeling stressed or overwhelmed about the games I didn’t have the time or space to highlight. You can read my event report here.
But that didn’t stop me from making mistakes. Dustin also prepared interview questions for two interviews I conducted at TGS, but because I forgot to pass on a memo about the types of questions that were permitted, a lot of his questions were rejected when I asked them on the day. So I had to come up with new questions on the fly despite knowing very little about the game being discussed.
At that moment, I didn’t think about whether I was qualified to do games journalism. If I had, I might have panicked and been unable to think of any questions at all. Instead, I let my interviewing experience take over. I asked general questions about the game, listened out for what the interviewees seemed particularly interested in sharing, and asked followup questions based on that. The interviewees didn’t seem to hold my lack of knowledge against me and were very obliging.
I think that games journalism is basically just every other kind of journalism. No matter what kind of journalist you are, there are plenty of occasions when you’ll have to dive into a topic you know nothing about. In those cases, you have to educate yourself quickly, but you don’t need to become an expert. As long as you check your sources and have good research and communication skills, you can be a good journalist.
With games journalism, however, there’s a perception that you need to share the community’s attitudes in order to be qualified. It’s a thankless job. I constantly felt the need to apologise for not playing enough games.
As it turns out, the game devs themselves were surprised when I mentioned that. After one particular interview, a dev asked me if I was a big fan of one of the games I’d asked them about. “Oh really?” he responded when I said that I didn’t play that many games. He laughed and said that was okay. He had enjoyed the interview.
At the time of this writing, I still haven’t finished doing my TGS work. I’m still organising followup interviews and doing research for an article. In other words, this won’t be the last time I write about games.
But next time, I’ll take the pressure off myself. I’ll strive to be a good journalist, but I won’t apologise for not being a “gamer”. I don’t need to validate the opinions of that community to do my job if it only makes me feel worse about myself.